As tension continues to mount in the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) over the coming on-board of a new helmsman, David Paradang, it has become imperative for the new Service helmsman to be guided.
It could be recalled that Rose Uzoma, the first female comptroller-general for the NIS, was sacked over a number of allegations top of which bordered on employment scandal. It was alleged that she engaged in employing without due process and in total disregard for laid down rules and regulations guiding employment into the Service. Uzoma was also accused of commercialising postings/transfers, where perceived juicy areas were given to the highest bidders, which also was against laid down rules of the Service.
It was also gathered that the most devastating of all the alleged atrocious deeds was the indiscriminate promotion process, a situation where a course-mate was promoted above his/her colleagues (not because of any outstanding performance, but based on ethnic considerations).
On record also is the case of officers indicted at the Lagos Airport for alleged non-conformity with the rules and disobedience to the powers that be in the NIS; the officers are still grieving. There were also cases of alleged issuance of Nigerian passports to foreigners, just because they could afford the fee.
Remember too some officers of the NIS currently serving at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport (MMIA) were invited to Abuja for interrogation on November 1, 2012, for the clearance of Abdul Rehman, a suspected prohibited immigrant, for which the officers ended up spending 21 days in the cells of the State Security Service (SSS) headquarters in the process.
Abdul Rehman, a Pakistani national, arrived MMIA on July 23, 2012, aboard EK 781 and was duly cleared by immigration officers on duty at the time of his arrival, but the officers detained did not take part in the clearance. It was reported at that time that the shift that did the clearance was left out deliberately, and these officers lost their freedom in Abuja without anybody given them opportunity to defend themselves.
“The method adopted in determining this supposed ‘official misconduct’ is a deliberate and calculated breach of Civil Service rules and regulations, very strange to Nigeria legal system entirely,” said one of the affected officers. “We ought to have been given a query, and our response determines the extent of our culpability if any, before being invited to Abuja,” he summed up.
From Lagos Airport, those arrested were counter officers and their supervisors; no head shift was arrested or questioned. Between the head shift and counter officers are the supervisors. “Could a select group of officers be targeted in this whole episode, stage managed by fifth columnist within?” another affected officer asked.
Remember too when President Goodluck Jonathan was inaugurating the new officials of the Police Service Commission last week, he categorically expressed his anger over the indiscipline and mediocrity in Nigeria’s security agencies, which he said have resulted in their abysmal performance.
The President pointed out that indiscipline and irregularities in staff promotion exercises were the bane in the military and para-military services, and have adversely affected their performances.
He recalled the recent screening and review process for six candidates for the post of the comptroller-general of the NIS, and stated that most of them did not merit the position but deserved to be sacked from the service.
“But I believe there are two things, one is the issue of discipline, and so one of the responsibilities of the… is to instil discipline. Another thing I believe is that people who have no merit to certain ranks are being promoted to those ranks. One of your responsibilities is to handle promotion. I believe with you only those who merit or deserve promotion should be promoted.
“Those who deserve to be disciplined or even dismissal must be disciplined. Few days back I did approve the new comptroller general of immigration, who brought the list of about six that were to be reviewed, some were sent from the ministry, some were picked from among the most senior.
“When we reviewed the six, from my intelligence investigation, most of them were supposed to have been dismissed. But those were the people that were being forwarded for appointment as comptroller general of immigration. Among them, only one is qualified to even stay and serve, others ordinarily are supposed to be dismissed from the records,” the President said.
When a President who is too busy could see the rots in a system and now enthrones you to run such a system, it therefore calls for a serious agenda setting, or call it roadmap in the common Nigerian parlance.
With the state of the Service presently, it’s the sincere wish of the writer that these suggestions will given a thought.
A quick redeployment of those officers that have been in a post for too long will go a long way in soothing frayed nerves among the rank and file. Trying to settle aggrieved officers perceived to have legitimate grievances, and redressing every court case should be seen as a right way to go now. This will help to restore motivation and interest to duty.
Also, demoting those officers who got indiscriminate promotions to the detriment of course-mates will be seen as the right step in the right direction. Just like the Police Service Commission, you can recommend to the Presidency for same in the NIS, as this will remove undue pressure and lobbying for promotion from you.
Shun every form of ethnicity/tribal sentiments, and instead promote professionalism/hard work above sycophancy and emotions. Don’t hesitate to expose, punish or sack any officer seen to be aiding and abating criminality against colleagues and our nation state.
Our land, sea, air borders where the NIS is supposed to function should be manned by officers who have the interest of the state, more than theirs at heart.
Avoid all forms of mediocrity, any officer who cannot abide should be redeployed because this will help the Service not to be run like a cult. Above all, surround yourself with those who know what they are doing, and who would help you repair the image of the Service that has been battered for some years now.
At this stage of the NIS, the Service should have a functional e-mail address where complaints can be lodged, and if possible an independent person should monitor and recommend appropriate sanction for any erring officer, according to the rules and regulations that govern the Service.
However, we suggest that the NIS review the whole episode that led to the smeared image of the Service and come up with an official position to make the officers affected understand genuine mistake and renew their confidence in the service once more. These whole episodes represent an embarrassment to the Service before the nation and the world. They should not be swept under the carpet to prevent recurrence.
This is necessary because this type of action is systematically compromising the nation’s national security; it is also capable of eroding the peace and tranquility the nation badly needs to advance. Above all, allowing such a situation to subsist would pave way for mediocrity to the detriment of intelligent officers whose services are needed for nation building.
Victor Obayagbona is of the editorial department of BusinessDay, Lagos.
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